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German broadcasters to appeal block on OTT service

It seems that no two countries see things alike when it comes to broadcasting, and perhaps that’s because no two broadcasting environments are alike –

By PETER WHITE

Published: 21 April, 2011

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It seems that no two countries see things alike when it comes to broadcasting, and perhaps that’s because no two broadcasting environments are alike – but this week German broadcasters RTL and ProSiebenSat have filed a court objection to the Bundeskartellamt decision to block a jointly run Over The Top video catch up service.

It was only a week ago that the Bundeskartellamt – German Cartel Office – decided to block the deal – which was effectively a German Hulu. Other countries in Europe have been fine about letting what is effectively a cartel of broadcasters, get together to run OTT services together. In the UK, while the BBC has gone it alone with iPlayer and ITV, Sky, Channel 4 and Virgin have all had to compete, it has been allowed to build a unified set top service which all of them can join in, called YouView.

The cartel office is known to want the service opened not only to broadcasters, but to other providers of online video and RTL and ProSieben have resisted, worried it would not be “professional” enough.

These two German companies have about 45% of German TV viewing, among their top five or six channels – according to figures from Nielsen, with another 27% shared among the two major Public Broadcast channels – leaving only 28% of free to air TV viewing to be distributed mostly to regional TV channels. In essence they control about 75% of the advertising TV market.

The Bundeskartellamt will have been influenced by the lack of agreement from the two public TV channels, ARD and ZDF, the two most viewed channels in Germany. If they were perhaps invited into the mix, and had some element of control then perhaps the Bundeskartellamt may not have turned the idea down.

RTL and ProSiebenSat have very carefully said that the service would be run transparently with other broadcasters invited to offer catch-up streams of their own programming. Both networks says the service will be provider neutral and that all broadcasters, including commercial and public competitors, will be given equal access. The service was to be run by RTL's digital division RTL Interactive handling hosting and streaming, but it says it is to be run as an independent system open to all German-language broadcasters. But no-one else.

The Bundeskartellamt has been slow to get the idea of how to go about stopping monopolies, but these days it likes to say NO to deals, and recently in this area said no to Kabel Deutschland Group (KDG) merging with Kabel BW. Instead Kabel BW was bought by Liberty Global to build a second bridgehead in Germany, and a cable operation probably bringing in more cash than KDG, even if it is providing TV to less customers.

So Germany will have to find another way of building a joint platform to bring OTT to the public from broadcasters, or, of course, they can each build separate systems, which is pretty much what’s happened in France.

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